2021 NFL Mock Draft

Updated: 1/6/21

This is my first mock draft of the year. I’ll preface this by saying I am not a college football expert and I relied on draft prospect rankings from several draft experts to figure out the range where players are expected to be drafted, which I know can change pretty drastically across the pre-draft process. 

For first time readers of this website, the primary feature of this website is my against the spread NFL picks, which will continue into the post-season. Mock drafts are just something I do for fun in the off-season and I am not nearly as confident in these mock draft picks as my against the spread picks. 

My main focus here was using my knowledge of pro teams to discuss how players would best fit with teams that are drafting in the range they are currently projected to be drafted in. Teams’ needs will also change pretty drastically before draft day due to free agency and trades, so I will make a few updates between now and the draft, based on changing prospect rankings and changing team needs.

1. Jacksonville Jaguars – QB Trevor Lawrence (Clemson)

Until I hear otherwise, I expect Trevor Lawrence to be a Jacksonville Jaguar. The Jaguars earned this pick by being the worst team in the league this season, losing each of their last 15 games after somehow pulling the week one upset over the playoff qualifying Indianapolis Colts. Trevor Lawrence won’t fix all of the Jaguars’ issues, but they have a stockpile of draft picks and significant cap space to build quickly around Lawrence, who is legitimately one of the safest #1 draft picks in the past three decades.

2. New York Jets – QB Justin Fields (Ohio State)

The Jets lost the Trevor Lawrence sweepstakes by winning a couple games late in the season and now have a difficult decision to make. They could trade down from this spot and continue trying to build around Sam Darnold, the 2018 3rd overall pick, who is now heading into his 4th season in the league. Or they could trade Darnold and use this pick on his replacement. Ultimately, I think the latter is more likely. 

The front office and coaching staff who drafted Darnold are gone and Darnold’s contract situation is much less favorable than a rookie, who would have four remaining cost controlled years, as opposed to one for Darnold. Justin Fields’ strong performance in the college football playoff semifinal win over Clemson only helps his case to be the pick here, though I wouldn’t rule out a surprise pick like Zach Wilson or Trey Lance, depending on how the pre-draft process plays out.

3. Miami Dolphins – OT Penei Sewell (Oregon)

The Dolphins got this pick from the Texans for Laremy Tunsil and now get their pick of the top non-quarterbacks in this draft, with the Texans falling to 4-12 in an abysmal season for the franchise. The Dolphins have various needs here they could address and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see them take one of the top wide receiver prospects, but offensive linemen typically go in the top-3 more often than wide receivers and Sewell is one of the top offensive line prospects in recent years. 

The Dolphins used a first round pick on Austin Jackson last year and had several rookie starters on the offensive line, but overall this group was part of the problem for this underwhelming Dolphins offense and Sewell is better than any of the players they drafted last year. He would immediately plug into the left tackle spot and move Jackson to right tackle or guard. That would set the Dolphins up well to protect Tua Tagovailoa long-term.

4. Atlanta Falcons – CB Patrick Surtain (Alabama)

If the Falcons move on from Matt Ryan or Julio Jones, the Falcons could use this pick on a replacement for one of those two players, but it sounds like the Falcons are looking for someone who would want to keep both of them in their GM search, so it’s likely they’ll go elsewhere with this pick. Trading down with a team looking to move up for a quarterback would make a lot of sense for a team for many needs and if the Falcons get a good offer they should take it, but if they have to stay put, they’ll likely focus on defense. The Falcons used a first round pick on a cornerback last year, taking AJ Terrell 16th overall, but they could use another starter long-term. Surtain profiles as a lockdown #1 cornerback and could be the first defensive player off the board.

5. Cincinnati Bengals – MLB Micah Parsons (Penn State)

The Bengals are also a candidate to move down, having already secured their franchise quarterback last year in Joe Burrow. They’d like to get better protection for Burrow, especially now that he is coming off of a torn ACL, but there isn’t an offensive lineman worth taking here. Instead, the Bengals focus on defense and fill a big hole at middle linebacker with Micah Parsons, the top off ball linebacker prospect and possibly the top defensive prospect overall. He would have been a candidate for the Falcons if they didn’t already have Deion Jones, but he would be much needed in Cincinnati.

6. Philadelphia Eagles – WR Ja’Marr Chase (LSU)

The Eagles used several draft picks on wide receivers last year, including first round pick Jalen Reagor, but anyone who watched them this season knows they still badly need help at the position, with no pass catcher topping 539 receiving yards. Veterans Alshon Jeffery and DeSean Jackson can’t be counted on to return and, other than Reagor, none of the wide receivers drafted last season look like potential long-term starters. Ja’Marr Chase is too good for the Eagles to pass on if he’s available. 

7. Detroit Lions – QB Zach Wilson (BYU)

Matt Stafford isn’t the problem in Detroit, but he’s owed 43 million over the next two seasons for his age 33 and 34 seasons and if the rebuilding Lions can get a good return for him from a quarterback needy team, the Lions could move on from him and opt to use their high first round pick on a cheaper, younger replacement. The Lions don’t have a lot of financial flexibility long-term and moving Stafford and replacing him with a potential franchise quarterback on a rookie contract would allow them more flexibility as they rebuild. Even if they don’t move on from Stafford this off-season, they could use a high pick on a quarterback with the intention of sitting him for a year and trading Stafford next off-season, similar to what the Chiefs did with Patrick Mahomes and Alex Smith.

8. Carolina Panthers – QB Trey Lance (North Dakota State)

The Panthers are another team that could address the quarterback position early in the draft. Teddy Bridgewater is owed 39 million over the next two seasons and in his first season as the Panthers’ starter he didn’t prove he was worth that kind of money. Bridgewater has 10 million guaranteed to him for 2021, but the Panthers could restructure a cheaper deal with him and keep him as a bridge quarterback while a rookie develops. A raw, high upside option like Trey Lance would make a lot of sense.

9. Denver Broncos – CB Caleb Farley (Virginia Tech)

The Broncos’ defense played well in 2020 despite a lot of injuries, but their cornerback group was depleted by the end of the season. Even if AJ Bouye and Bryce Callahan come back healthy, the Broncos need a third cornerback, another outside cornerback to play opposite Bouye, with Callahan on the slot. The Broncos are speculated to be interested in drafting a quarterback, but the top-4 are all off the board at this point and, even if they weren’t, I’m not sure they would take one anyone, with Drew Lock still around as a developmental quarterback prospect. They could still take another quarterback with a high pick, but I think it’s more likely they pursue veteran competition rather than giving up on Lock. 

10. Dallas Cowboys – DT Kwity Paye (Michigan)

The Cowboys had problems on both sides of the ball this season, but defense is the biggest area of concern because their offense will be better when they’re healthier in 2021, while their defense is lacking in promising young players, especially on the defensive line. Kwity Paye is a high upside defensive line prospect that can play both inside and outside and he would give the Cowboys a big boost.

11. New York Giants – WR DeVonta Smith (Alabama)

The Giants have used their high draft picks to build their offense in recent years, taking running back Saquon Barkley, quarterback Daniel Jones, and left tackle Andrew Thomas. Now they add a wide receiver in Heisman winner DeVonta Smith. The Giants wide receivers weren’t a bad group in 2020, but Golden Tate is overpaid as a 3rd receiver and will likely be cut ahead of a 8.5 million dollar non-guaranteed salary for his age 33 season in 2021 and neither Sterling Shepard nor Darius Slayton are true #1 wide receivers either. Smith gives them a potential #1 wide receiver long-term and, if he develops and Shepard and Slayton stick around, Daniel Jones would have a strong receiving corps for years to come.

12. San Francisco 49ers – DE Zaven Collins (Tulsa)

The 49ers will be healthier at the edge rusher position in 2021, as at least Nick Bosa should return, but Dee Ford could easily not return, owed a non-guaranteed 16.9 million in 2021 after two injury plagued seasons in San Francisco. Solomon Thomas should also be healthy again, but he hasn’t shown much in four seasons in the league. The 49ers need a long-term edge rusher opposite Bosa. Arik Armstead played outside out of necessity last season, but the 49ers would like to be able to use him inside more next season. Collins would give the 49ers a quartet of first round picks upfront with Bosa, Armstead, and last year’s first round pick defensive tackle Javon Kinlaw. Collins also has the versatility to play some standup linebacker on run downs.

13. Los Angeles Chargers – OT Alex Leatherwood (Alabama)

It’s pretty amazing what Justin Herbert was able to do as a rookie despite below average play at pretty much every spot on the offensive line. The Chargers almost have to use their first round pick to get Herbert some help, unless they sign multiple starters in free agency. Leatherwood would slot in immediately as Herbert’s blindside protector long-term and would be an obvious upgrade over pending free agent Sam Tevi.

14. Minnesota Vikings – DE Greg Rousseau (Miami)

The Vikings’ defense was absolutely horrible down the stretch in 2020 and, while a lot of that was due to injuries, especially linebackers Anthony Barr and Eric Kendricks, the Vikings still have obvious needs on that side of the ball, especially on the defensive line. The Vikings should get stud edge defender Danielle Hunter back in 2021 after he missed all of 2020 with injury, but they need a better option opposite him than Ifeadi Odenigo, who leads returning Vikings with 3.5 sacks in 2020 and would be best as a rotational reserve.

15. New England Patriots – TE Kyle Pitts (Florida)

The Patriots haven’t had much success with first round wide receivers, but they desperately need pass catchers, so maybe they’ll address the wide receiver position in free agency and use their first round pick on the draft’s top tight end Kyle Pitts. A quarterback could also be an option, either at this spot or in the top-10 after a trade up, but unless there’s someone Belichick loves in this draft that is worth moving up for, I think it’s more likely he addresses the position with a veteran before the draft. The Patriots have the cap space to add a veteran quarterback and a top wide receiver in free agency (Matt Stafford and Kenny Golladay?) and at Belichick’s age he’s unlikely to want to develop a rookie quarterback as part of a longer rebuild if the opportunity to add a more proven veteran presents itself.

16. Arizona Cardinals – WR Jaylen Waddle (Alabama)

The Cardinals obviously have one stud wide receiver in DeAndre Hopkins, but Kliff Kingsbury can’t be satisfied with this group of pass catchers, especially when they run so many 3 and 4 wide receiver sets. Larry Fitzgerald is likely to hang them up this off-season, ahead of what would have been his age 38 season, which would open up playing time for a rookie in three wide receiver sets with Hopkins and Christian Kirk, given that 2019 2nd round pick Andy Isabella has yet to develop. Waddle’s speed would make him a dangerous weapon if single-covered opposite Hopkins and Kingsbury can line him up in different spots like how the Chiefs used Tyreek Hill early in his career. I like his fit in this offense.

17. Las Vegas Raiders – CB Jaycee Horn (South Carolina)

The Raiders used the 19th overall pick on cornerback Damon Arnette last year, but the Raiders’ defense was still terrible this season and they need to keep building their cornerback group, so it wouldn’t be a surprise to see them take a cornerback in back-to-back years. The Raiders have the need for another long-term starter outside and if everything goes well Horn and Arnette could form a talented duo for years to come.

18. Miami Dolphins – MLB Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah (Notre Dame)

The Dolphins lack a good three down linebacker, so they could address this position with their second pick in the first round. Jerome Baker, Elandon Roberts, and Kamu Grugier-Hill saw the majority of the linebacker snaps in 2020 with hybrid player Kyle Van Noy also in the mix, but Van Noy plays a lot of edge defender snaps as well and Baker, Roberts, and Grugier-Hill could all be upgraded. Owusu-Koramoah is one of the best every down linebacker prospects in this draft and could play close to 100% of the snaps even as a rookie.

***Picks 19-32 are based on odds makers projections as of January 6th 2021, not on my own predictions***

19. Washington Football Team – QB Mac Jones (Alabama)

The Alex Smith comeback story has been amazing, but he’ll need to make a decision on continuing his career in his age 37 season in 2021 and, even if he wants to return, Washington will have to make a decision on bringing him back at his currently scheduled 19 million salary, none of which is guaranteed. Even if Smith returns to Washington, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Washington use their first round pick on a long-term option as Smith probably isn’t more than a bridge quarterback at best given his age and everything he’s been through.

20. Chicago Bears – WR Rondale Moore (Purdue)

The Bears hope to bring back Allen Robinson as a free agent this off-season, but, even if they do, they could use another wide receiver. Darnell Mooney showed a lot of promise as a 5th round rookie in 2020, but 2018 2nd round pick Anthony Miller has yet to develop. Moore would be a potential #1 wide receiver long-term if Robinson can’t be retained and, if Robinson is retained, he can still contribute immediately in three wide receiver sets with Robinson and Mooney as a rookie.

21. Indianapolis Colts – DT Carlos Basham (Wake Forest)

The Colts have DeForest Buckner and Grover Stewart signed long-term at the defensive tackle position, but hybrid player Denico Autry is a free agent and they could use a younger version of Autry that can play both outside and inside. That’s what Basham can be for them, setting the edge on early downs and moving inside and rushing the passer from the interior opposite Buckner in passing situations. The Colts could also lose edge defender Justin Houston this off-season ahead of his age 32 season in 2021, so adding youth to this defensive line should be a priority.

22. Jacksonville Jaguars – S Jevon Holland (Oregon)

Normally teams that draft a quarterback with their first pick use their next pick on a complementary offensive player, but the Jaguars could buck the trend because they have more needs on defense than offense. The Jaguars’ defense should be better by default in 2021 because they should be healthier, but they still need to add a playmaker at the safety position. Jarrod Wilson is a capable if unspectacular starter, but they could use a higher upside option next to him. 

23. Cleveland Browns – DE Patrick Jones (Pittsburgh)

Olivier Vernon tore his achilles, which is a huge blow to the Browns’ chances in the post-season. Vernon was a free agent anyway, but his injury makes it even more likely the Browns go elsewhere at the defensive end position opposite Myles Garrett this off-season. Using a high draft pick on an edge rusher would make a lot of sense for a team that lacked depth at the position even before the Vernon injury.

24. Tennessee Titans – OLB Joseph Ossai (Texas)

Edge defender (outside linebacker in the Titans 3-4 scheme) was a huge position of need for the Titans last off-season. They thought they solved the issue in the short-term with Vic Beasley and Jadeveon Clowney being added on one-year deals, but neither amounted to anything and the Titans’ pass rush has been an obvious weakness on a team that is Super Bowl caliber on offense. The Titans could address the need with a long-term option early in the draft this year, giving them a long-term complement on the edge opposite Harold Landry.

25. New York Jets – WR Rashod Bateman (Minnesota)

The Jets follow the rule of taking an offensive player after taking a first round quarterback. Breshad Perriman was only on a one-year deal and could be upgraded anyway. Bateman would give the Jets and a long-term complement outside to last year’s second round pick Denzel Mims, who flashed as a rookie, with veteran Jamison Crowder around for at least one more season as the slot receiver.

26. Baltimore Ravens – G Wyatt Davis (Ohio State)

The Ravens never properly replaced right guard Marshal Yanda and it has shown on this offensive line this season. If the Ravens get the opportunity to take Wyatt Davis, the draft class’ top guard prospect, with their first round pick, it may be an easy decision for them. Rookie guards can step in and make a big impact right away and Davis would be a big boost for a team with annual Super Bowl aspirations.

27. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – RB Travis Etienne (Clemson)

Leonard Fournette was added as a complement for Ronald Jones, but he’s only on a one-year deal and could be upgraded. Ronald Jones is a capable lead back, but the Buccaneers are all in for the Super Bowl with an age 44 Tom Brady in the final year of his contract in 2021 and adding a feature back prospect like Etienne is the most impactful short-term move the Buccaneers can make at this point. Similar to Clyde Edwards-Helaire with Le’Veon Bell on the Chiefs this season, Etienne could be the lead back and rotate with Ronald Jones rotating in as a strong 2nd option.

28. Pittsburgh Steelers – RB Najee Davis (Alabama)

Back-to-back running backs off the board, as Etienne and Davis could both go in the first round. Lead back James Conner is a free agent for the Steelers this off-season and backups Benny Snell and Anthony McFarland averaged 3.32 yards per carry and 3.42 yards per carry respectively in 2020. Conner could be brought back, but the Steelers may have their sights on an upgrade at the position long-term. Davis would be cheaper and likely better than Conner and would make sense even if the Steelers are able to bring Conner back on a cheap one-year deal to work in tandem with another back.

29. Buffalo Bills – OT Jalen Mayfield (Michigan)

The Bills got great play out of reclamation project Daryl Williams at right tackle, but he’s a free agent this off-season and could easily go elsewhere, as could swing tackle Ty Nsekhe, who would be in his age 36 season if he returned. The Bills could use their first round pick on a right tackle who would allow Cody Ford to remain at guard long-term. There are other directions the Bills could go, but this is a great value for Mayfield, who could go in the top-20.

30. New Orleans Saints – WR Chris Olave (Ohio State)

The Saints were without Michael Thomas for most of 2020 and didn’t have a young wide receiver step up in his absence, instead relying on Emmanuel Sanders, who will be in an age 34 contract season in 2021. The Saints could use a high draft pick and a long-term complement for Thomas, something they really lack right now. In the short-term, Olave would be an upgrade as the #3 receiver behind Thomas and Sanders.

31. Green Bay Packers – MLB Dylan Moses (Alabama)

The Packers were criticized for taking quarterback Jordan Love instead of a wide receiver in the first round last year, but I just thought it was weird they passed up Patrick Queen, when they had an obvious need at the linebacker position. The Packers could redeem themselves by taking an every down off ball linebacker prospect in the first round. Wide receiver is also a possibility, but the Packers have gotten by just fine with the receiving corps they have right now. They may not want to bring along another young wide receiver and if they fall short of the Super Bowl, their linebacking corps and their defense are much more likely to be the reason why than their pass catchers.

32. Kansas City Chiefs – G Trey Smith (Tennessee)

The Chiefs’ achilles heel on their offense is their offensive line, but they can address the position early in the draft. Trey Smith could have an immediate impact on this offensive line for a team that has had underwhelming guard play since Kelechi Osemele, a veteran on a one-year deal, got injured earlier this season. Even if the Chiefs win the Super Bowl again, Smith could be available to them in the first round.

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